After more than 20 years “practising and preaching” elder law, Brian Herd has shared his acquired wisdom in a new book, Avoiding the Ageing Parent Trap.
Brian, a partner at CRH Law in Brisbane, said he had written the book for personal and professional reasons.
“Personally, I have had ageing parents and I know what my four siblings and I have had to confront,” he said. “Professionally, most of what we do as lawyers is reactive. We advise people about what they can do to fix the past rather than face the future.”
He said his experience, “constantly, and despairingly”, was a reminder that we are all unprepared for the impact of our ageing parents on our lives.
“As a result, many of the family scenarios I confront are the result of a ‘C’ change – a crisis,” he said. “My office is drowning in many stories of adult children who have avoided the inevitable result of their parents living longer – that is, they become dependent and reliant on us.
“Many of them become what I call ‘failed families’ because they have never had the courage to confront the reality. I call a lot of what I do latter day ‘family planning’, and there needs to be more of it.
“My book is meant to open our eyes to what is to come and how to prepare ourselves, our siblings and our parents for it. It is a useful legal, financial and social tool to avert family dysfunction (or at least more of it).”
He said the book was targeted mainly at older adult children, that is, those aged between 50-70.
“They should read it and then give it to their children because, one day, they will be the ageing parent and their children will stand in their shoes,” he said. “It is particularly helpful for the latter-day blended family as well, where the dynamics of ageing parents can create all sorts of complicated stress and cleavage.”
Brian said that a trap that was often overlooked was the common situation in which ageing parents became separated, not by desire, but by circumstance, that is, one had to go into aged care and the other stayed at home.
“This doubles the trouble for a family in every respect,” he said. “Suddenly the cost of living doubles, they may have to change EPOAs and wills, obtain financial advice on the implications, juggle assets, deal with byzantine Centrelink rules and the jigsaw puzzle of aged care, even make decisions for their parents where they are the EPOAs.
“We can usually see this coming, but prefer the ostrich-head-in-the-sand approach, and wait and watch for something to happen.”
Which not specifically targeted at lawyers, the book was something they might recommend for clients, remembering of course that lawyers have parents too.
“It is a universal experience,” Brian said. “Parents have the ability, not by design and not even by chance, to dominate our own later lives and to adversely impact on our own retirement.
“The book is an insight into, if not a mirror on, our families’ futures. Planning is a cliché in many contexts, but family planning will decrease significantly, the stress, distress and destruction of families over the one issue that we would never want – what to do about mum and dad.”
Avoiding the Ageing Parent Trap , which provides “essential information and solutions” on this universal topic, is available in paperback or as an e-book from most popular booksellers.